It’s not a matter of if, but when.
I am absolutely convinced President Obama is going to create a new national monument in Utah.
The evidence that this eventuality is going to pass is growing by the minute. Just last week Obama created a new national monument in New Mexico. When he used the Antiquities Act to create the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, Obama said he “was not done” setting aside land.
We’ve known this was coming for a while. In his State of the Union Address earlier this year, Obama warned Congress he would act on his own if they could not figure out how to deal with wilderness.
It’s going to happen in Utah. The only question left is the timing.
I expect Obama to make his decision sometime after the election in November.
There’s no compelling reason for Obama not to act. He doesn’t owe Utah’s Congressional delegation any favors. He’s got Rep. Jason Chaffetz crawling all over his administration trying to make Benghazi a thing and openly musing about impeachment. Sen. Orrin Hatch is critical of Obama on a daily basis. And I’m guessing Obama isn’t a card carrying member of the Mike Lee fan club.
Obama doesn’t owe Utah any favors. He’s already wildly unpopular here, so locking up federal land forever with a new national monument won’t hurt him much. In fact, he basically has nothing to lose. Utah isn’t a swing state and it won’t be in play come 2016.
Politically, creating a new national monument will hurt Utah’s Democrats, but any backlash won’t be as severe as it was in 1996 when Bill Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. That move basically cost Rep. Bill Orton his seat in Congress. If Obama waits until after the election, the blowback will be minimal for Utah’s minority party.
If and when it happens, it will fuel outrage on the right on Utah’s Capitol Hill. Meanwhile, Progressives and Democrats will cheer the decision. We’ll hear the usual cries of tyranny and that the president is abusing his constitutional authority from Republicans. Utah lawmakers will grumble about the federal overreach. Social media will be filled with calls for open rebellion against Washington for taking our land - but you can’t take Facebook too seriously on these matters.
But there are two factors that have led us down this path that are playing a bigger part here. First, it’s virtually impossible for Congress to do anything on public lands. Look at America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. It was first introduced in Congress in 1989, and in every Congress following that. Lawmakers and environmentalists have been fighting over this proposal for more than two decades. Will it ever pass? Who knows.
It’s like I tell my children when they have a dispute - work it out amongst yourself because if I have to step in, you probably won’t like the solution I come up with. Since Congress can’t figure out what to do with public lands in the West, Obama will probably take it upon himself.
The other factor in play here is the fact that Obama will never have to stand for election again. Do you think he would be throwing the Antiquities Act around so loosely if he were able to run for a third term? Probably not. If there were a remote chance he would appear on the ballot in 2016, he would be much more careful - opting to be a politician rather than trying to secure his legacy.
And in the end, we’ll have a new national monument in Utah.
Life will go on.